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Toyota Kluger 2014 review: road test

EXPERT RATING
7
Though Toyota tends to follow trends rather than begin them, its Kluger has been an exception to that rule.

Though Toyota tends to follow trends rather than begin them, its Kluger has been an exception to that rule.

When introduced in 2000 the Kluger was aimed at those who wanted a large station wagon to be used as a people mover. While it had 4WD styling and, was driven by all four wheels, it was never intended as a vehicle with which to tackle the Great Sandy Desert. Those who did want to go exploring in the outback could buy a Toyota LandCruiser, Troop Carrier or Toyota Prado. And if they wanted a smaller vehicle there was the Toyota RAV4 - talk about covering all bases…

The third generation Toyota Kluger has just been launched. Unlike the first models it isn’t built in Japan, but in Indianapolis in the USA. The town that hosts the spectacular 500-mile race is obviously able to provide plenty of car enthusiasts to team up in a giant factory.

DESIGN / STYLING

One of the first things Akio Toyoda did when appointed as the global president of Toyota in 2009 was to tell his stylists he wasn’t happy with the conservative image Toyota carried. So the all-new Toyota Kluger has a tall, dare we say aggressive? frontal shape, with a very large grille. It works nicely to our eyes.

Large guards and a deep swage down the sides continue the strong styling theme and the rear lights have the sort of protruding horizontal shape that’s all the rage at the moment. The tailgate is hinged at the top and also has opening rear glass, the latter a handy feature in tight car parks or when you don’t want to displace items already in the boot. Inside, the dash and centre panel occupy virtually a single area, something that we prefer to designs that almost have the central-screen looking like an afterthought.

ENGINES / TRANSMISSIONS

Toyota’s tried and true 3.5-litre twin-cam V6 has been revamped to reduce emissions and fuel use. Its peak outputs are 201 kilowatts of power and 337 Newton metres of torque. There’s no diesel option as the Kluger is mainly aimed at the American market (where it’s called Highlander) and our cousins over there aren’t keen on diesels. The engine is now mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with electronics that adapt not only to hilly conditions, but also sense drivers’ individual desires.

Kluger is offered in 2WD, to the front wheels, or 4WD if you want to get a bit more adventurous and explore mild off-road areas. The front-drive models costs $4000 less, are lighter and therefore use less fuel and provide more performance. Nevertheless, Toyota says the split in sales in previous models is about 50/50 and anticipates this will continue.

SAFETY

Every model has a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, seven airbags, daytime running lights, stability and traction control, anti-skid brakes with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution. The topline Kluger Grande also has Toyota's pre-collision safety system and lane departure alert.

DRIVING

New Kluger is longer and wider than before and a considerable amount of work has gone into maximising interior space and functionality. Not only in body design but also in the use of rear suspension components that are low and compact. The cabin can take seven adults, though five, with two children in the rear will be a more practical load.

The front seats are large and comfortable and the second row seats have very good legroom. Access to the rearmost seats is relatively easy as the second row seats slide forward. This is a tall vehicle and the climb into these rearmost seats is still hard work for those getting on in years.

Boot space is very good, and all seats can be folded flat to create a voluminous area that can be set up in numerous ways. The second and third row seats each have 60/40 splits. Ride comfort is very good and noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels are impressively low. This really is an excellent machine for long distance cruising.

Around town it’s likely to be a bit of a handful a times, but this is alleviated by a rear camera that’s standard on all and roof pillars that are relatively thin. Handling is safe and predictable - there was considerable Australian testing from the early stages onwards - though you wouldn't describe it as sporting.

Though we didn’t do any off-road testing during the launch in northern New South Wales we did a fair bit of driving on corrugated dirt roads, some of which had seen better days. The suspension gave a smooth, safe ride and cabin noise levels didn’t increase overmuch. Engine performance is good without being outstanding. The new automatic is excellent in the way it works with the engine torque to get the best from it.

VERDICT

Toyota Kluger is a large comfortable station wagon that will generally be used only as a people carrier. Having the option to take it into mild off-road areas will appeal to many. Experience tells us that few will use it on unsealed surfaces, but the dream is there - and who can argue against dreams?

Pricing guides

$27,990
Based on 207 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$19,800
Highest Price
$38,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Altitude (4x4) 3.5L, ULP, 5 SP AUTO $19,600 – 27,280 2014 Toyota Kluger 2014 Altitude (4x4) Pricing and Specs
Altitude (FWD) 7 Seat 3.5L, ULP, 5 SP AUTO $18,900 – 26,290 2014 Toyota Kluger 2014 Altitude (FWD) 7 Seat Pricing and Specs
Grande (4x2) 3.5L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $25,300 – 33,550 2014 Toyota Kluger 2014 Grande (4x2) Pricing and Specs
Grande (4x4) 3.5L, ULP, 5 SP AUTO $23,700 – 32,230 2014 Toyota Kluger 2014 Grande (4x4) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7